Harnessing the Sun with a Solar Oven to Make Blue Hopi Cornbread


Cooking with a solar oven

It’s easy to miss the diminutive town of Gila (pronounced Hee-lah). With a population of around 300, you won’t find much in the way of city life, but you will be graced with eclectic groups of folks growing hearty food along the banks of the Gila River, one of the last free-flowing rivers in the region. Those in the area who aren’t farmers are artists, ranchers, retirees, California transplants or passer-throughs looking to explore the 3.3 million acres of wilderness surrounding the high desert.

Brittney and I stayed for three weeks in March with Eric, who farms around 20 acres near the river where he grows just about everything—lettuce and kale to fruit such as strawberries and blackberries—in greenhouses and nearby fields. He also has goats, chickens and few bee hives. He sells, mostly, to the thriving farmer's market in nearby Silver City, a Continental Divide Trail town that provided the luxuries of modernity after extended stays on the farm.

On our travels this year, we're focusing on learning permaculture and biodynamics, something Eric was well-versed in. His pesticide-free greens, which were thriving when we arrived, accompanied many of our meals—most of which were cooked by our host who had a knack for quality Indian fare.

When we weren’t prepping and planting in the greenhouses or discussing the different philosophies of life, Eric schooled us on the benefits of living off-grid. His home and the buildings surrounding it are adobe, sourced with materials right from his land, with a composting toilet and well water rounding everything out. Since New Mexico receives nearly 300 days of sunshine each year, Eric has furthered his self-sustainability by harnessing the sun with a solar oven to supplement using his gas stove.

How it Works

The beauty of a solar oven is that it bakes, steams and boils with nothing more than an insulated box surrounded by reflective material. The sun is concentrated into the container, where a pot sits, to heat up the interior that’s encased with a glass door. Cast iron, glass or stoneware are best to use as they contain no plastics that will melt.

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